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Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory

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A diachronic perspective on near-synonymy: The concept of sweet-smelling in American English

Daniela Pettersson-TrabaORCID iD: http://orcid.org/0000-0001-9302-3372
Published Online: 2018-10-09 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cllt-2018-0025


This paper presents a diachronic analysis of the attributive uses of four synonymous adjectives which designate the concept of sweet-smelling (fragrant, perfumed, scented, and sweet-smelling) in the latter part of Late Modern and Present-day American English. By drawing on data from the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA) and applying a Hierarchical Configural Frequency Analysis (HCFA), it delineates the internal semantic structure of this set of synonyms, paying special attention to their noun collocates. The results show that the concept of sweet-smelling experiences major changes over the time span examined (1850–2009), from being used mostly to qualify entities which can exhibit a natural pleasant smell (e.g. flowers and trees) to modifying objects which are artificially sweet-smelling (e.g. oils and shampoos). Moreover, fragrant and perfumed, which initially were the most frequent adjectives, are gradually replaced by scented, thus reflecting a change in the relation between the synonyms over time. The study constitutes the first diachronic approximation to synonymy from the perspective of cognitive semantics and provides equally effective results as previous synchronic research in the field.

Keywords: synonymy; semantic change; collocational behavior; Hierarchical Configural Frequency Analysis


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About the article

Daniela Pettersson-Traba

Daniela Pettersson-Traba holds a BA in English Language and Literature (July 2014) and an MA in English Studies (September 2015). She is currently a full-time postgraduate researcher at the Department of English and German of the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain), under funding from the Regional Government of Galicia (grant ref. ED481A-2016/168).

Published Online: 2018-10-09

Citation Information: Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory, ISSN (Online) 1613-7035, ISSN (Print) 1613-7027, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cllt-2018-0025.

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